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### Contemplating Springtime in Athens

A perspective of the tightly packed structures that form the urban landscape of Athens, Greece, nestled amidst mountain ranges and rich in unparalleled history and culture.

The experience of studying abroad is widely shared among members of Wake Forest’s community. Many individuals either embark on their own journeys or have connections with others who have done so or plan to do so. While the university sponsors numerous programs, there is also a diverse array of affiliate programs that collaborate with Wake Forest to offer experiential learning opportunities that are highly sought after by many.

When I was contemplating whether to pursue this opportunity, I discovered abundant information about these programs online. Despite this accessibility, I lacked insights from peers regarding the actual abroad experience outside the university context. Most acquaintances had opted for popular destinations like London, Vienna, and Venice—cities where Wake Forest facilitates semester-long programs in its own properties. Although these programs seemed exceptional and aligned with my academic requirements, I felt compelled to explore further and seek programs that would expose me to students from various institutions.

This quest led me to choose to spend my spring semester in Athens, Greece, through an affiliate program. The experience exceeded my expectations and provided unexpected insights. I finalized my class registration for the program in early December, and by late January, I was en route to Greece from John F. Kennedy Airport on a red-eye flight.

Prior to our arrival, the program encouraged us to create Facebook pages to connect with fellow participants. Despite this, the only familiar face in the cohort was a close friend of mine, who happened to be the sole other Wake Forest representative among around 140 students. As we descended into Athens, the city’s landscape took me by surprise. The densely populated tan buildings, limited to a few stories due to seismic risks, sprawled across the compact 15-square-mile area of the city. Upon arrival, we were swiftly transported to our cozy apartment, shared with three Notre Dame students who soon became our friends. Situated near our school building in Pangrati, we were surrounded by student accommodations, fostering a sense of community. Over the five-month period, I grew accustomed to the neighborhood and spent hours traversing its streets for various activities.

Located in Pangrati, a neighborhood that provided a gentle introduction to urban life for someone like me, unaccustomed to city living, the area was predominantly residential and tranquil compared to adjacent bustling districts. It boasted small specialty shops, numerous eateries, and apartment blocks with charming balconies overlooking the quaint streets.

My apartment was a short distance from the historic Kallimarmaro Stadium, where the inaugural modern Olympic Games were held, and where I trained for the local annual half-marathon. From my apartment’s top floor, I could witness the mesmerizing sunset behind the Parthenon, a mere 20-minute walk away, frequently visited by our class and visiting friends. Adjacent to the school was the National Gardens, a lush oasis teeming with indigenous flora, a duck pond, and animal enclosures, offering a serene contrast to the city’s hustle and bustle.

The vibrant streets of Athens bustled with activity, lined with residences, stores, dining establishments, and vehicles. The iconic Parthenon loomed over the cityscape, visible from various vantage points. However, the cacophony of urban life posed a challenge for me, unaccustomed to such a lively environment. Unlike the tranquility of Winston-Salem, the incessant car horns in Athens, reminiscent of New York, added to the sensory overload. Crossing the streets demanded heightened vigilance due to the swift and erratic movements of motorcyclists navigating through traffic.

Apart from the traffic din, a recurring annoyance was the car alarms triggered by passing trolleys, disrupting the peace of our street at early hours. Despite the vehicular congestion, Athens boasted a robust public transportation network, with the metro proving to be a reliable mode of travel throughout the semester. This experience solidified my preference for residing in areas with efficient metro systems in the future.

The program schedule included Fridays off for independent exploration. Our cohort maximized this free time, embarking on day trips to nearby islands and popular European destinations. My roommates and I ventured to Romania for a weekend, exploring Bucharest and touring Transylvanian castles. Additionally, the program organized excursions to northern Greece in Thessaloniki and along the Peloponnesian peninsula, enriching our cultural immersion.

Amidst the exciting adventures, the mundane tasks of grocery shopping in a foreign language and handwashing laundry in a bathtub to avoid laundromat expenses became arduous. A few weeks before the program’s conclusion, I experienced burnout—a surprising development for someone not prone to homesickness. I longed for the familiarity of campus friends, family, and a structured routine, feeling conflicted about my inability to fully relish the enriching experiences abroad.

Reflecting on my semester abroad, I realize the importance of maintaining balance, especially in unfamiliar environments. Acknowledging my exhaustion towards the end, I recognize the need for improved time management. Despite the challenges, the memories and lessons from my time in Athens have left an indelible mark, offering valuable insights into my personal strengths and limitations.